ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Jason Hanson has almost seen it all in his 21 seasons with the Detroit Lions.
Strong starts. Flat finishes.
A winless season. Three straight postseasons and five in a seven-year stretch back in the 1990s.
When Hanson hears someone mention last year's accomplishment — a 10-win season that snapped an 11-year playoff drought — was just a mirage, he doesn't bristle and respond with bravado.
"I say, 'Maybe it was,'" Hanson said. "Nobody on this team should open their mouth about whether it was or wasn't. When people say that, we have no argument until we start winning games. We better start winning games.
"We've got lots of proving to do."
Yes they do.
The Lions entered their bye week at 1-3. Since winning their first five games last season, they have lost 10 of 16 games, including a loss in an NFC wild-card game at New Orleans.
Detroit's problems that were obvious for all to see — the lack of a running game and a poor secondary — might be worse than expected.
Meanwhile, the team's failure to cover kickoffs and punts along with the inability for Matthew Stafford to connect with Calvin Johnson in the end zone wasn't anticipated.
Just when it looked like the Lions had an answer on the ground when Mikel Leshoure ran for 100 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut two weeks ago, a 44-41 overtime loss at Tennessee, Leshoure ran for 14 yards on one carry and averaged 1 yard on his 12 other attempts in a seven-point loss to Minnesota.
Speedy Jahvid Best, recovering from two concussions he sustained last year, can potentially provide a complement to the powerful Leshoure as soon as Oct. 22 at Chicago.
The Lions look like they have much-needed help in the secondary even sooner.
Louis Delmas, who had surgery on his left knee two months ago, practiced Wednesday for the first time since early in training camp and might be active in Detroit's next game on Oct. 14 at Philadelphia.
"Lou is one of our vocal leaders, he flies to the ball and is spirited and everything you want in a safety," linebacker Justin Durant said. "It'll be a big plus to get him back."
If Detroit can put Delmas back in the starting lineup, it can get his replacements — Ricardo Silva and John Wendling — on special teams where their help is desperately needed.
The Lions are the first team since at least 1940 to give up a kickoff and a punt return for scores in consecutive games.
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz has made it clear that special teams coordinator Danny Crossman wasn't going to lose his job over the historically poor performances from his coverage teams.
When the Lions resume play against the Eagles, Crossman hopes to become a name and a face few know.
"Love anonymity. Love it," Crossman said Thursday morning, surrounded by nine reporters and two TV cameras. "My kids all the, they're like, 'Daddy, we don't see you on TV.' That's a good sign."
The Lions opened 5-0 last year largely because Johnson was the first player in NFL history to have nine TD catches — from Stafford — that quickly. In their lone win this season, they rallied to beat St. Louis in Week 1.
Johnson is confident he and Stafford will become a dynamic duo again.
"It can happen, no doubt," Johnson said. "At the same time, other guys have to make plays."
So far, that has been a problem.
Receivers Nate Burleson and Titus Young haven't taken advantage of single coverage very much, catching only one TD each, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew has been dropping passes at an alarming rate for a team counting on him to make defenders regret paying too much attention to Johnson.
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said the Lions' top task after the bye is to figure out how to start better. They have trailed in each of their first four games, allowing teams to stick to their running game and forcing Detroit's pass-happy offense to be even more one-dimensional.
The Lions fell behind last year, too, but bounced back to well enough to become the first NFL team to win four games when trailing by 13-plus points in one season.
Maybe all of that was just a mirage.
"You can't be in denial," Vanden Bosch said. "We didn't finish last year well and we're 1-3 this year and we deserve to be 1-3."
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